During the 2020 season, I wrote about how the Falcons had an uphill battle ahead of them coming this offseason. In September, the roster for 2021 was going to be around $220 million, but the expected salary cap floor at that time was $175 million. So even back at the start of last season, the Falcons were in salary cap hell — approximately $45 million over the cap by those figures and in one of the worst financial situations in the league.
Fast forward seven months, and the Falcons are about $915,000 under the $182,500,000 million league salary cap with 56 players under contract, according to the NFLPA’s public salary cap report. Duron Harmon is making an unexpectedly low salary figure, given his prowess as a leader and scheme flexibility. He could’ve gone just about anywhere and played adequately, but he decided to come to Atlanta for Dean Pees’ system, taking the veteran minimum to do so — $987,500 against this year’s cap.
Cordarrelle Patterson signed a one-year deal worth $3 million, which could be hard for some Falcons fans to stomach, considering he’s primarily been a special teams contributor for most of his career, but as I have explained in a couple of different articles, $3 million is a bargain for what Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have planned for his usage. Expect Patterson to get significant snaps on offense as a running back and gadget wide receiver, as he’s listed as a running back on the team’s website.
The good news is the Falcons are in the green, but the bad news is the 2021 draft class will cost around $9 million abiding by the Top 51 rule, over $12 million in total cap. Fontenot has to generate more space somehow, and the most obvious move that hasn’t happened is restructuring Grady Jarrett, which would save Atlanta $6,255,000 against this year’s cap. That still isn’t enough to sign the 2021 draft class, but it is moving in the right direction. Julio Jones has also not been restructured, which could save the team over $9 million this year. However, I think Fontenot is holding off on Jones because he doesn’t want to be locked into the aging receiver for the remainder of his contract.
Regardless, expect some more fancy accounting by the Falcons as the draft draws near. There are many ways to reduce a player’s cap hit, but there are always consequences a general manager has to live with. Void years seem like the most obvious way to lessen this year’s cap and not mortgage the future away.
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